Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication and Administration Manager, and Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Today is the International Day of the African Child, a day to honor children’s rights. The continent-wide event looks back to a terrible day in 1976, June 16, when thousands of schoolchildren marched in Soweto, then a township in South Africa, to call for higher-quality education and the right to learn in their own languages.
Hundreds of children were shot. The official number of deaths was 23, but estimates put the number much higher. One of the first casualties, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, would become the icon of a movement promoting children’s rights. Since 1991, the Day of the African Child has marked the tragedy and served as an occasion to advocate for children’s rights across the continent — and, in particular, for children themselves to raise their voices.
This year, children from seven African countries marched through Soweto from the Mandela House to the Hector Pieterson Monument and Memorial Museum, joined by representatives of the South African government, the United Nations, international nongovernmental organizations and other official bodies.
During the march, children and others chanted slogans against early and forced marriage, this year’s theme for the Day of the African Child: “Don’t talk about us without us!” “Stop early marriage now!” “Girls are not a commodity — do not trade them for money, but send them to school!” Later, children performed dramatic monologues, poems and other speech advocating for children’s rights.
This year, the Day of the African Child is joined with a parallel celebration of this month’s 25th anniversary of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The African Union crafted the Charter based on the United Nations’ global Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which marked its 25th anniversary in November. The Charter echoes the CRC but is geared more specifically toward Africa’s needs, particularly with regard to protecting children from harmful traditional practices.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child explicitly calls for all African countries to push the minimum age of marriage to 18, but child marriage — as well as accompanying issues such as early pregnancies and lack of education and job opportunities for young women — remains a challenge throughout Africa, home to 15 of the world’s 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.
“We young girls want to be in a school,” said one girl participating in the march. “That is where we belong — not to marriage.”
Soweto is not the only site where the Day of the African Child is celebrated, and June 16 is not the only day; in Guinea, which is recovering from the Ebola outbreak, thousands of children, joined by government and NGO officials, gathered on June 6 in Siguiri, a prefecture on the Niger River, to launch a Month of the African Child.
Near the site of Guinea’s celebration is a gold mine, and many young children work there, missing school and placing themselves in danger. That was the issue on Mamadou’s mind, and the 14-year-old ninth-grader was excited to exercise his right to speak out: “This moment is an occasion for me to pass messages to parents and even friends,” he said. “In my district, most of the children of my age and even younger are in the gold mine. Some are there through because of pressure from their parents. These children are not attending school. Instead, they spend every day from morning to evening digging hard, rocky ground in search of gold.
“Parents, please help your children to go to school,” he said. “School builds children’s minds and prepares them for tomorrow so that they can be helpful to you.”
He worries about his friends’ thinking that money is the answer to problems. “I am telling them that I agree with them that money is good, but you need to have the education and training to be able to manage money and know how to multiply it,” he said. “I tell my friends who have gone to the mine to go back to school for the education and training that will let them manage money, because school builds the mind.”
Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. Ending early and forced marriage is this week’s theme.
In 2005, at the age of 10, Kadiatu was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs serving the Daindemben Federation in her Sierra Leonean community. With support from her sponsor to pay for school fees and learning materials, Kadiatu eagerly embraced the educational opportunities available to her.
But when she reached junior secondary school, Kadiatu’s father decided to remove her from school and give her in marriage to a middle-aged man in the village. ChildFund and its local partner intervened on Kadiatu’s behalf, standing firm to ensure that her father’s decision was overturned. The marriage was cancelled, and Kadiatu continued her schooling. But her father withdrew all support. Her mother has died long ago and her stepmother showed no love to her.
Without ChildFund sponsorship and the support of Daindemben Federation, Kadiatu would have had nowhere to turn.
Today, Kadiatu, 18, is in senior secondary school preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She credits ChildFund and Daindemben Federation for restoring her hope and believes she would have been the mother of two or three children by now had it not been for the intervention of the federation. “Daindemben has made me realize my importance and value in society,” she says.
Now she is determined to go all the way to university to study accounting. “I want Daindemben Federation and my sponsor to be proud of me. They have done so much to get me to where I am today. I don’t want to let them down,” she says. “Even my father is proud of me now,” she acknowledges. “He has regretted the action he had wanted to take then.
“I would like Daindemben Federation and my ChildFund sponsor to continue being my pillar, so that I will achieve my dream of becoming an accountant.”
Read more about ChildFund’s work to prevent early marriage.
Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
A young girl stood before a panel of adults in a government office in northern Afghanistan. It was not her first visit.
What is your name, and how old are you?
My name is Nazifa, and I am 12 years old.
Are you happy with your family?
Yes, I am. My mother is a kind woman, and my father is often away from us, working.
Why are you in the district governor’s office?
I presented a written complaint to get out of being married to an old man.
How much is a 12-year-old girl worth?
To Nazifa’s grandfather, $2,000 sounded about right. This was the offer from the pair of community elders who approached him a year ago about arranging a marriage between his eldest granddaughter and a young boy from their rural village.
The three men, says Nazifa, showed her a picture of the boy and made her agree to the marriage despite her objections, which included her desire to continue school.
On the wedding night, she was taken to a room where an old man sat. She kissed his hands, the traditional demonstration of respect for elders by Afghanistan’s young people. And then she was made to sit next to him. She began to cry, harder and harder as she came to understand that this elderly man was her new husband ― that she had been deceived, and that there was nothing she could do. Finally, she fell quiet, and the man did as he wanted. He was 72 years old.
Nazifa’s grandfather left immediately after the wedding on a pilgrimage funded by Nazifa’s bride price.
Within two weeks, Nazifa’s husband began to abuse her.
The moment she saw an opening, Nazifa ran home to her mother and told her everything, and they submitted a complaint to district authorities. Eight months later, there was still no resolution.
ChildFund learned of Nazifa’s case through its Social Work Coaching project in Takhar province, which aims to improve child protection systems to address the needs of children at risk. In addition to working with local and national government authorities, the project trains social workers and community outreach workers on child rights, child development and protection, referrals and other social work services. ChildFund is one of several partner organizations in the project, which is supported by UNICEF.
After Nazifa told her story, the room fell quiet, her listeners struck by her tender age, her sweet face, her directness, her passion for education. Her questioner changed the subject.
Do you go to school?
Yes, when I am not coming to court.
When you go to school, does anyone bother you?
Yes, on the way to school and in class, they all laugh at me and say unpleasant words.
Do you want to continue going to school?
Yes. I will never stop going, even though it’s hard.
If you don’t succeed in getting out of this marriage, what will you do?
I am sure the government will decide in my favor. Otherwise, I can’t accept life with an old, disturbing man, and I will end my life somehow.
Nazifa was finally able to leave the marriage, and school is easier now, thanks to some support from social workers trained by ChildFund.
Authorities had no good answer as to why this case had taken so long, and there are many more such cases throughout Afghanistan due to the cultural breakdown following the country’s two decades of conflict. Social work is not really a formal profession in Afghanistan, but this is beginning to change as authorities recognize the need for it, thanks largely to awareness raised by ChildFund and others working to strengthen child protection systems in Afghanistan.
We work to expand people’s knowledge about the rights and worth of children, and we help protect as many children as we can from becoming victims.
Because a 12-year-old girl is priceless.
by Karen Chieng, ChildFund Kenya intern
Alfred Wambua Kimanthi, 46, loves his work as deputy head teacher at Kyangwithi Secondary School in Kitui, Kenya. When he pauses to reflect and tell his story, he notes that his life could have turned out much differently.
Growing up in abject poverty under the care of his grandfather who could barely provide basic necessities, Alfred, nonetheless, held the dream of becoming a teacher close to his heart.
His first break came in primary school when he was enrolled in ChildFund’s sponsorship program. He later managed to sit for his final exams and passed with flying colors, attaining his Certificate for Primary Education. “I remain indebted to my sponsor whose assistance enabled me to successfully complete my studies, a launch pad that set me toward my dream of becoming an educator,” says Alfred.
As he continues to tell his story, one can hardly miss the bevy of students constantly coming up to him for consultation. “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where the influence stops,” he says. It’s an adage he has come to know well in his profession.
One of his most memorable experiences as a physics and mathematics teacher was contributing to the rise of female enrollment at a school he was posted to in northeastern Kenya. This is an area rife with the cultural practice of early marriage for girls, since education is often deemed fit for the male child only.
Working closely with local authorities, Alfred persuaded community leaders and families to allow girls to attend school. He also engineered the promotion of science education for girls, succeeding in making physics the number two best-performed subject at an all-girls school in Kitui. The school became known for the quality of its science education, contributing to an increased number of female engineers in the area.
At his current teaching post, Alfred continues to pass the baton to eager learners. He credits ChildFund for its drive to empower young minds through knowledge. It’s a mission he shares with passion.